My Garden ~ a frosty lesson in growing potatoes

In June, I boasted about the warmer than usual night-time temperatures. I was intent on getting as much planted and established as quickly as possible – including an early potato crop. Squelchy soils in the paddocks caused by stormy squalls later grabbed my attention. There was no need to cover plants with frost cloth.  The early potatoes were planted in a sunny sheltered situation. The raised bed, made of lots of compost and well rotted organic material,  drains well. Early this week, all of the early potato plants’ shoots had just emerged above their warm blanket of mulch.

On Tuesday this week, Himself and I had our attention diverted  with a stint of caring for grandkids overnight and all day Wednesday. Busy as, we missed the weather forecast and of course we never gave it a thought to put a frost-cover over the plants. The first frost (albeit  a light one) of winter happened on Tuesday night. It dissipated quite quickly next day before mid-morning. At first glance, the larger potato leaves are affected – but I looked more closely and noticed the very small leaves at mulch level seem to be OK. They may have been somewhat sheltered and the soil was not frozen. Tonight, there’s an extra layer – of straw – over the plants. So, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the damage isn’t too bad.

Another thing I noticed was that a few heritage potatoes that had self-seeded in a weed-like manner seem to have resisted the frost.  I re-read my gardening books about recovering frost affected potatoes. Each mentions mulching and mounding. On reflection, I’m not sure what I learned or my options were. (1) Leave Himself in solo charge of the grandkids? (2) Turn TV on and watch the weather while we give the kids their bottles? Work in the garden later – by torchlight if necessary. (3) Every night, think, ‘frost’. (4) Let self-seeded potatoes have their way in the garden. (5) Gardening moral – an ounce of prevention is better than a cure.

My Garden ~ too busy in the vegetable patch to write about much else

It felt hotter outside than the official 20C today. The ground is dry and surface cracks indicate the need for rain. Never-the-less, early summer is here and this gardening month is busy with successive sowings, cultivation and harvesting.    

I checked the growth of my potatoes planted 30 September.  The Kowiniwini, Urenika and Maori  heritage potatoes are about to burst into flower. I was somewhat surprised to find the Swift (early variety for Xmas ) potatoes are almost ready to be harvested. Two-year-old Grandson who became an expert ‘tato inspector last year, inducted baby brother in the art of choosing the biggest and the best ‘tato for dinner tonight. He also picked the very first tiny courgette of the season (as you do) when you’re a connoisseur of baby vegetables. The early potato crop probably thrived because of the thick applications of mulch. The soil around the plants was friable, warm and moist despite no watering and drying conditions. We are careful how we use water because our domestic water supply is from rainwater collection. We pump water from the stream to the troughs for the animals. So gardening for me must be about conserving moisture and mulching. Our predominantly clay soil becomes rock hard in the summer – digging is a no go – hence I follow a permacultural approach to diversity and building up soil to encourage worms and beneficial insects.   

The Calendula are making a great show among the potatoes. With that in mind today, I filled gaps among the other vegetables with more heat-loving flowers as companion  plants Rudbeckia, Zinnia and French Marigolds. That should make the friendly insects giddy with delight (or confused should the pests have pesky intentions).  November here is a great month for flowers – I use different edible flowers in salads and drinks.  

I under-planted the sweet corn with a long green cucumber – my Dad used to do this as a living mulch so I though I’d give it a try this year as well as letting pumpkins sprawl under the corn plants.  I could have used beans – but I have these growing elsewhere. My last tasks today were to plant Sweet Peppers and to stake Beefsteak tomatoes – under-planted with Sweet Basil of course as I have visions of home-made pesto in mind.

My Garden ~ Flaxes and Cabbage Trees are in Flower

a-corner-of-my-garden.jpg Some years ago, I planted these native plants to act as a windbreak to protect our fruit trees from the prevailing westerlies. The big bonus is that our New Zealand native birds love the food source. The native flax and cabbage trees nectars particularly excite the tuis and waxeyes (some people call these birds Silvereye) at this time of the year. The birds were coy about posing for the camera – so another time. Mind you, there was a deterrent. Mayhem – the Ginger cat, so wanted to be in the photo. He just doesn’t understand that the birds don’t want to be his friends. I love watching the tiny waxeyes – they look so cute after they’ve dipped their heads into the flax flowers and emerge covered with orange pollen. 

collage2.jpg My potato plants have made rapid progress and I’m still applying mulch rather than earthing up. The spring temperatures are warming up considerable and the other vegies are growing well.

My Garden ~ Mulching

The Swift, Kowiniwini and Maori heritage potatoes mentioned in my previous post are showing lots of healthy young leaves. Rather than earth the plants up, I’ll mulch each plant with rotted organic plant material. Our 6.5hp heavy duty petrol -powered chipper/mulcher machine has proved its value for many years (though now in the light of fuel price hikes, I’ll have to think about the cost). We recycle tree prunings (the machine can take branches up to 70mm in diameter) and other plant matter  into mulch – the processed chip size is about 10 to 15mm . We can  either directly feed the shredded matter onto a specific garden site or create a new compost pile. It is this organic matter that I’ll put round the potatoes. Today I’ll plant my Agria seedling potatoes. These are another favourite. They mash or crush well once cooked. The taste is great when combined with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper. We sometimes use locally produced avocado oil. Now that’s a treat – we love this oil infused with lime – especially when cooking fish.  

Broad Beans are another wonderful fresh garden taste we’ve been enjoying.  I like to steam the beans with a sprig of savoury and then toss with crisp grilled bacon pieces through a pasta such as fettucini.  The beans are just about finished and my other bean seedlings are ready to transplant. Today, our Labour Day public holiday is a traditional time to plant tomotoes. But the weather doesn’t know that and the winds here are westerly and cooling the temperatures.  I’ll hold hold off planting tomatoes outside for a while. There’s lots of other gardening tasks to do.

My Garden ~ crop rotation

I like to rotate where I grow the vegetables in my garden. I have no hard and fast rules and tend to do what my father did. He grew potatoes to clear the ground and condition the soil in preparation for another crop. It’s a common sense approach to organic principles of avoiding the build up of disease problems in the soil. The brassica seeds have sprouted in time to be planted for the winter months ahead. I’ll plant these where I grew the potatoes in rotted hay layered on newspaper.

 Rotted hay and manure The hay that was mixed with weathered animal manure is now a crumbly structure and is full of worms.  The newspaper that I’d layed down before I planted the potatoes has broken down and is part of the organic matter.

As is my practice, I applied a dusting of dolomite lime in preparation for planting the broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower seedlings and  I’ve spread more newspaper around the edges of the new growing beds to suppress weed growth.

My Garden ~ potato harvest

I can’t imagine not growing my own potatoes. There’s always a space somewhere in my garden. As usual, I spread newspaper on a patch of ground and then layered rotted hay. I layed each sprouted seed on a wilted comfrey leaf and covered them with a deep layer of hay. As the shoots grew, I piled more hay around the growing plants. Fertiliser was cow manure collected with the rotted hay from the paddocks.

We enjoy the varieties and flavours. The different textures lend themselves to different ways of cooking. As I mentioned in a previous post, we simply steam Urenika (Maori blue potato) as we do with the early variety ‘Swift’. I add sprigs of mint (and of course there has to be a knob of butter and black pepper over the cooked potatoes).  

I tried growing three varieties new to me this season.

‘Heather’ is described as a main crop with a purple skin, smooth skin and white flesh, great taste and good cooking qualities.

‘Moonlight’ is described as new in 2000, white skin and flesh, high yielding, excellent boiling quality. Excellent drought and wind tolerance.

‘Red Rascal’ is described as improved Desiree with a deep crimson skin and white flesh. Excellent baking and roasting.

Potato Harvest

Today I harvested the crop. All I had to do was pull the hay away – no digging and the potatoes are clean. I left them to dry in the polyhouse before sorting according to size and variety. I keep some aside for the next season’s seed crop. I was pleased to note no blight or disease and minimal physical damage that seems to have been caused by slugs.

I store potatoes in shallow polystyrene boxes (used by growers to transport grapes to supermarkets and then discarded) and keep them in a cool and dark place.